Don’t Believe Major Jonathan C. Dowty’s Lies — Rock Beyond Belief Is Happening!

Atheist-bashing coward Major Jonathan C. Dowty spreads RUMOR that Rock Beyond Belief may be cancelled.

This is total bullshit. Rock Beyond Belief is absolutely happening on March 31! It’s going to be awesome — with speakers and performers including Richard Dawkins, Words Such As Burn, Roy Zimmerman, Aiden, Hemant Mehta, Dan Barker, Margaret Downey, the US Army’s Professional Parachute Team doing a live demonstration jump (weather permitting), and more! The event is open to the public — no, it’s not just for the military — there’ll be child care, discounted hotel rooms… and it’s FREE! Fort Bragg, North Carolina at the Main Post Parade Field.

Chris Rodda has the story on This Week in Christian Nationalism. Don’t let this atheophobe con you. Make your plans today!

Homophobic Nurses for Jesus – Fired!

UPDATE/CORRECTION: Commenters have pointed out that the nurse was not fired — she was ordered to retire.

Remember the lesbian veteran who was seeking help for depression?

Remember the horrible Marine Corps nurse at the VA who harangued her for three hours about her “lifestyle of sin” and whether she’d been “saved by Jesus Christ”?

The nurse has been canned.

“The board was able to substantiate material portions of the veteran’s claims,” Smith said. “VA North Texas Health Care System will continue to provide an environment where veterans can receive the physical and emotional healing that they desire and deserve. As such, we remain committed to respecting diversity and providing the best possible care to all veterans. Our commitment to equal rights remains strong as we practice our core values of integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence. Ms. Pandithurai will retire from federal service effective January 21, 2012.”

Justin Griffith has the story at Rock Beyond Belief. Chalk one up for the good guys!

A Day to Defend Free Expression, Feb. 11

Do you think people should be able to hold public meetings criticizing religion, without being threatened?

Do you think students should be able to post cartoons criticizing religion on their Facebook page, without being expelled?

Then support A Day to Defend Free Expression, February 11, 2012. Central London from 2-4pm, and everywhere all day on the Internet.

Maryam Namazie has the lowdown. Save the date.

Why Is an Atheist High School Student Getting Vicious Death Threats?

Her state representative has called the student “evil” and she has been threatened with violence, rape and death. What gives?

If you take away just two things from the story about atheist high school student Jessica Ahlquist, and the court case she won last week to have a prayer banner taken out of her public school, let it be these:

1: The ruling in this case was entirely unsurprising. It is 100 percent in line with unambiguous legal precedent, established and re-established over many decades, exemplifying a basic principle of constitutional law.

2: As a result of this lawsuit, Jessica Ahlquist is now being bullied, ostracized and threatened with violence in her community. She has been called “evil” in public by her state representative, and is being targeted with multiple threats of violence, rape and death.

Which leads one to wonder: What the hell is going on here?

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, Why Is an Atheist High School Student Getting Vicious Death Threats? To read more — both about why the ruling in this case was so entirely unsurprising, and why the response to it has been so vicious — read the rest of the piece.

Oh, and by the way: The college scholarship fund for Jessica Ahlquist is, as of this writing, already over $24,000. Let’s get it to top $30,000!

Dream diary, 1/18/12: The blood test for books

I dreamed that the government had created new medical technology where they could test your blood and find out what books you’d been reading. I was upset about the invasion of privacy this represented, but mostly I was embarrassed and annoyed that my recent reading list hadn’t been serious enough and had so much escapist junk on it, and now everyone would know.

Jessica Ahlquist to Speak at Reason Rally!

In case you didn’t have enough reasons already to attend the Reason Rally — the big secular/ atheist/ freethought/ etc. March on Washington coming up on March 24 — now you have an even better one. Jessica Ahlquist — the high school student who recently won her lawsuit to get a prayer banner taken out of the school auditorium — is going to be one of the speakers! Ahlquist is more than just brave and tough and inspiring: she’s also a kickass speaker, who is going to tear the roof off the sucker. I am honored and delighted to be sharing a stage with her, and only hope I don’t have to follow her.

In case you haven’t gotten the memo yet: The Reason Rally is going to kick ass. There are going to be musicians, including Tim Minchin and Bad Religion; comedians, including Paul Provenza and Jamie Kilstein; and awesome speakers, including Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Jamila Bey, Taslima Nasrin, James Randi, Dan Barker, Hemant Mehta, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Cristina Rad… and MEEEEE! (Here’s a complete list of the current speaker/ performer lineup.)

If you want to go but don’t think you can manage the travel: You have some options you might not know about. Buses are being chartered from several states; Delta is offering Reason Rally attendees discounted airfare. And several local hotels are offering discounted rooms to Reason Rally attendees.

So make this happen if you possibly can! The Reason Rally is going to be the Woodstock of atheism. It’s going to totally rock out — and if you can go, and you don’t, you’ll regret it the rest if your life. Years from now, people will be saying, “Did you go to the first Reason Rally?” Don’t be the one saying, “Nah, I could have gone, but I spent my vacation time reorganizing my CD rack instead.” Make this happen. (And check out the American Atheists convention that’s happening right after.) Hope to see you there!

Kittens Helping Ingrid Brush Her Teeth

Over the last few weeks, Ingrid and I have been discovering that everything — absolutely everything — takes longer when you have kittens. Writing, reading email, cooking dinner, emptying the dishwasher, getting dressed in the morning… everything we do takes more time now, because the kittens are interfering trying to help. Even watching TV takes longer than it used to: we watch a show for about five minutes, and then have to pause it for five minutes because the kittens are doing something cute. There is no aspect of our home life that hasn’t been made more time-consuming: by kittens getting in the way, by their distracting cuteness, or — in the all-too-common worst-case scenario — by the dreaded combination of the two.

As documented by these photos Ingrid took the other day, when she was trying to brush her teeth.



The rest of the series after the jump. [Read more…]

The Best Parts of the Jessica Ahlquist Court Decision

I just finished a piece for AlterNet about the recent court decision in favor of Jessica Ahlquist, the one ruling that Cranston High School West could not have a freaking prayer banner posted in their auditorium. (I’ll post a link as soon as it goes up.) I’ve been reading the actual court decision — something most of the people vehemently decrying this decision and calling for Jessica’s blood have conspicuously failed to do. And I wanted to pull out what I thought were some of the best, most pertinent, most beautiful, most damning, and most flat-out inspiring pieces of the ruling. Kudos to U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux.

BTW, a link to a PDF with the entire ruling can be found on the Friendly Atheist blog. (I’d link to it myself, but I have some odd holes in my tech knowledge, and “how to post/ link to a PDF” is one of them.)

And for those who don’t already know about this: There’s a college scholarship fund being raised for Ahlquist, also on the Friendly Atheist blog. Ahlquist is an incredibly tough and brave young woman, who has been fighting firmly and powerfully for separation of church and state in the face of unbelievably ugly and hateful vilification, ostracism, and threats of violence and death. If you want to show your support for her, please consider contributing. Donations of all sizes are welcomed through February 29.

And now — Ahlquist v. City of Cranston, the greatest hits!

No amount of debate can make the School Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that. Its opening, calling upon the “Heavenly Father,” is an exclusively Christian formulation of a monotheistic deity, leaving out, inter alia, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists alike. The Prayer concludes with the indisputably religious closing: “Amen;” a Hebrew word used by Jews, Christians and Muslims to conclude prayers. In between, the Prayer espouses values of honesty, kindness, friendship and sportsmanship. While these goals are commendable, the reliance on God’s intervention as the way to achieve those goals is not consistent with a secular purpose.

The Court refrains from second-guessing the expressed motives of the committee members, but nonetheless must point out that tradition is a murky and dangerous bog. While all agree that some traditions should be honored, others must be put to rest as our national values and notions of tolerance and diversity evolve. At any rate, no amount of history and tradition can cure a constitutional infraction. The Court concludes that Cranston’s purposes in installing and, more recently, voting to retain the Prayer Mural are not clearly secular.

The Prayer Mural espouses important moral values, yet it does so in the context of religious supplication. The retention of the Prayer Mural is no doubt a nod to Cranston West’s tradition and history, yet that nod reflects the nostalgia felt by some members of the community who remember fondly when the community was sufficiently homogeneous that the religion of its majority could be practiced in public schools with impunity.

When focused on the Prayer Mural, the activities and agenda of the Cranston School Committee became excessively entangled with religion, exposing the Committee to a situation where a loud and passionate majority encouraged it to vote to override the constitutional rights of a minority.

…the School Committee endorsed the position of those who believe that it is acceptable to use Christian prayer to instill values in public schoolchildren; a decision that clearly placed the ‘nonadherents’ outside of the political community.

And finally: This, this, a hundred times this:

Plaintiff is clearly an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand, particularly in light of the hostile response she has received from her community.

Hell to the yes. Ahlquist is indeed an articulate and courageous young woman, who took a brave stand. The atheist community — and anyone who cares about the principle that government should stay out of people’s private religious convictions — owes her an enormous debt of gratitude.

Help Free Freethought Conferences and Public Spectacles – Support ReasonFest!

ReasonFest — the totally free, two-day freethought conference in Lawrence, Kansas on Feb. 11 & 12 — is doing a fundraising drive. It looks to be an awesome event: speakers include Jennifer Michael Hecht, JT Eberhard, Jamila Bey, Greg Epstein, Darrel Ray, and many more. Plus there’s going to be a game room and lots of other opportunities for socializing and general fun.

ReasonFest is organizing on the Skepticon model — make the conference free to make it much more accessible to more people, especially younger people, working class people, and others who can’t usually afford to ago to conferences. It’s an excellent model, one that can bring atheist conferences to a lot more people and do a lot to build end expand the community. But it’s a model that, obviously, depends on fundraising and donations. And obviously any help they get is … is very … helpful.

They’re asking for our help to make it happen… and organizer Michaelyn Everhart is offering to make a public spectacle of herself if they reach their goal. (Funny how that’s becoming the new model of atheist fundraising. Wonder where they got that idea…) If they raise $1,000 by January 24, she’ll be getting a mohawk onstage during the event for everyone’s entertainment. How can you pass that up?

Please do what you can! Help ReasonFest keep going — and get Michaelyn a mohawk in the bargain!

The Skeptical “Pride and Prejudice”

I’ve been re-watching “Pride and Prejudice” when I eat breakfast (the BBC one with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy — mmmmmm). And I’ve decided I want to write the skeptical version of it.

New title: “Overconfidence Effect and Confirmation Bias.”

Revision of the famous first sentence: “It is the provisional but widely-accepted consensus that an unattached male with above-average income and economic stability will be open to the possibility of long-term romantic commitment.”

Thoughts on where we might go with this?